Friday, June 29, 2012

Stunning movie - Home for Salmon

Sit back, grab your cup of tea and watch this. Staggering, enlightening and heartening in one go. Ups.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


On the Saturday just gone, the Auckland Waikato Fish & Game council's bi-monthly meeting was held. The district's angler's notice was not adjusted (i.e. season's regulations) based on some really strong scientific data; therefore the regulations will be unchanged. The backdrop to this is that with the general collapse of the Taupo district's fisheries (fish quality and size has dropped dramatically since 2005), more anglers are partaking of opportunity in our region's well known waters such as the Whakapapa and upper Wanganui. Add in the focus on these waters that was brought by the World Fly Fishing Champs several years ago, and its no wonder that pressure has increased dramatically on these rivers. Local anglers and a local outdoors business principal had put forward submissions indicating that the fishery is on the verge of collapse and that the new season's regs should address this; however science (observation data from drift dives) proved that the fish are still there. However the fish are most likely becoming harder to catch simply because the pressure they receive has made them far more wary.
The point is that with hard data it was relatively simple for the Fisheries Manager, Ben Wilson, to recommend that the next season's regulations remain the same as current.

There is a lot of concern around that our Mallard population is in decline. The undisputable fact in our region that botulism outbreaks in Tuakau and the Piako River mouth (completely unprecidented in a tidal environment) killed perhaps tens of thousands of mature birds (no one knows just how many...) most definitely impacted on the number of birds observed over the season. Game Bird Harvest Survey stats show the 3rd worst season ever in terms of birds harvested per effort expended. The issue that we have is the population dynamics that we are not observing. How fertile are our Mallards? What is the average clutch size? How many make it from egg to fledge (at which point they are relatively self sufficient)? What's killing them? What percentage are being predated and at what life stage? We just don't have definitive answers to the above.

There is quite a push at F&G regional level for a program of research but the way Fish & Game is organised it is almost impossible to get a focused effort underway that will encompass the entire nation. Put it this way, angling license revenue outstrips Game Bird license revenue by a factor of ~4. Of the 144 councillors nationwide, at a guess 80%+ are anglers. Each of the 12 regions has a representative at National Council. National Council is supposed to drive the organisation. If only 2 or 3 of the national council have game birds as their primary interest, its always going to be hard graft to get a centralised focus on researching what's happening to our ducks. Further, there's the issue of funding research. With funding of $115k granted by National F&G in year 1, most taken back from Southland Region's reserves (at least even though it was being taken back to central funding as a matter of course, Southland managed to get it ear marked for research), I don't know where or how anything solid will get underway - at the moment evaluation frameworks are being worked up by the team involved, but it all seems a bit vague.

I know this all sounds terribly pessimistic but its not (I just haven't had my first coffee yet); there's a glimmer of hope that we may soon have a small amount of scientific data by which we can start getting to grips with what's happening in duck world.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Real Grass & Killer Weed

The first season back on salt handed me a few lessons in getting the gear right. One of the big lessons is that the camo nets I've made up get really heavy when wet, and that's less than ideal because of the additional weight of having all that water aboard. When you've only got a 30hp donkey, carrying 20 kg extra of water makes a difference when the boat already has a full complement of gear and hunters aboard. So.... I've had another look around. Speaking with Greg Duley, he camo's his boat stem to stern with Avery Real Grass mats.

His is the brown old school stuff that looks like browned off raupo. Avery has released a few new "seasonal" colours so I grabbed some early season stuff out of the USA. On arrival it doesn't look like the promo picture...

But from what I've read elewhere that's not unusual and the promo shots are embellised with local vegetation.

So I'll try that on the blind in the near future. I also got some Killer Weed in Winter Wheat in. I figured i could use this stuff on the layout, and for any parts of the boat that need additional cover.

Now I reckon this stuff will be more useful than I'd previously thought - for a bunch of raffia it sure looks pretty realistic.

No children were harmed in taking these photos

Quite keen to see how this all pans out. Hopefully we'll have a lite weight camo cover with some depth to it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Collage of season's shots

Credits for some of the shots go to The Holland Boys, Tim & Andy

And it was good

As I was approaching the Bombay's on the motorway on Friday evening, I got a call from Tim - when I asked where he was he said that he was tucked in behind my truck and boat, so we had a mini convoy to the swamp. The trip was uneventful and soon enough we pulled in and met Milo who was returning to the swamp for the first time in a few years. Andy turned up soon after so we launched our boats and headed down river. Having unloaded, opened the hut and got the fire going Andy put some flounder into the pan; Milo, Tim & I went out to set some decoys for the morning hunt. It was damn cold; so getting back to the warm hut and scoffing flounder, broccoli and mashed spuds was just what the doctor ordered. We sat and smack talked and solved the world's problems until well after midnight... and the all too soon Tim's alarm was quacking its duck noise. We all looked a bit like walking wounded but we got to the pond with time to get the electronic decoys sorted and settle back and wait. A few birds were moving and as the sky lightened 4 ducks came past low enough to be interesting; we put the hail calls on and suddenly a pair set their wings and dived in from several hundred feet - full commitment. We bagged them and over the next couple of hours put a few more ducks in the bag. As usual the maimai talk was lively and varied, and as usual time ticked over way too fast. We worked up a plan for the rest of the day which involved Andy and I grunting around under flooded willows while Milo, Tim and Quinn minded the pond. Turns out that around about then I figured I was on dinner duty and we'd eaten our dinner sausages for breakfast, so we decided to roast some ducks. We cleaned 3 birds, whipped up some stuffing and then put the birds in a camp oven with sherry, salt, pepper, some mandarins and a little sugar.

Then, off to pincer move the ducks. Andy and I set off, but our quietest effort simply spooked birds out well ahead of us. Walking around in drowned fallen willows with all the branches, roots and windfall in calf to thigh deep water is never going to be an exercise in stealth... I ranged out to one of the neighbour's ponds and took a grey duck as it jumped. Getting back to the rendezvous point, we set off to see if we could push some ducks that Andy had seen drop back into the trees. Turned out to be a good move, as by the time we got back to the hut we'd picked up 5 birds between us, including 1 that Andy's dog had nabbed. After a while we jumped into Andy's boat to go and check out a few other spots, and while I was away in the trees Andy picked up another bird with a nice shot. The tally now was about a dozen, and we were quite pleased to have moved so many birds and taken a good number. Andy's shooting was better than ever too, which was neat to see.

We got back to the hut for a cuppa and a bit of rest, my legs felt quite taxed. Dinner went on and then it was off for a night hunt which was eventful if only because we were buzzed by teal. Back to base for dinner and then Milo and I pulled out and headed home.

The drive home gave me plenty of time to reflect on the 6 weeks that have flown by, and what a fine duck season it has been.

Friday, June 15, 2012

End of season

The final days of our duck season approach. I've loved the fact that I've had a hunt every weekend and took a week to hunt as well, and even better have done some new stuff too - although not entirely successfully at times (but its all part of the never ending learning curve). Not the time to get into post mortem just yet, after all we still have 3 days - including today! - to go, and I'll be spending the last day of my season (I have to be home on Sunday for family reasons) in the swamp with a close mate. Tomorrow I'm planning to hunt a pond in the morning that has shot poorly, probably in part due to the minimal hunting effort put in on it, and then maybe have a walk around in some low lying willow and finish with a night shoot.

This time of year really flies and I'm scratching my head trying to remember where the season has gone. The season's end is always a little sad, but it would be much sadder to have let it slip by without having a go.

Even though my heart belongs to ducks, there are still both geese and pheasants to hunt, and for that I'm more than grateful.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

New horizons

Left pretty early Saturday morning to head down to Craig's place - mission to get out in a west coast harbour and have a look for ducks or geese. When I arrived, we decided to head out the door for a pheasant first, so we grabbed Max the dog and headed off. On the way we ran into Craig's dad who had seen 3 roosters earlier, so we took his directions and soon had parked and were working a bushy ledge over a deep basin. The weather was pretty bleak, a cold sou wester with intermittent rain. Max wasn't really into it but eventually put out a bird which Craig took nicely. Round about here I should say that I didn't really come prepared for pheasants; so was walking around with my Xtrema and Hevi Metal waterfowl rounds. We worked a couple of gulleys before heading back to the car. On the way, a pair of paradise ducks came in over a ridge. I led the first bird and pulled; both fell from the sky.... hello, I had quite forgotten that for steel shot I'd left the improved cylinder in. Max retrieved the birds and we hung them in the shade. We worked the other side of the farm, missing a few, getting a few and by lunchtime had returned with 2 more cock birds in the bag. Our morning's bag also included a large hare that Craig shot. I snapped a few pictures and then we headed back to the house for lunch and to prepare for the sea ducks.

Ring necks and a male and female paradise duck (female has white head)

It was then that Craig admitted having shot a 'white pheasant'- tradition demands that this costs the shooter a bottle of Scotch to be given to the keeper, however as Craig raises our birds he'd be drinking to himself!

White wings

Busted, Craig!

White tail feathers

We prepared ourselves with warm gear and set off for Kawhia harbour. Personally I'd never been there before and my god, what an amazing place. I was quickly glad for having brought the fish finder, as the harbour is a maze of sand banks and channels and after a while made for an island and landed to see if we could find signs of waterfowl. Craig 'discovered' a low marsh with a channel and a basin of rush, it looked extremely ducky, but no birds were home. We snuck up and jumped some swan but didn't shoot, then sat on the beach and glassed but nope, still no signs of birds. Sitting out there on new territory felt damn good - I enjoy finding new places.

We wandered back to the boat which was sitting just off a sand bank - the tide was receding rapidly and getting stranded wouldn't be a happy experience. We motored down a long bank towards the harbour entrance then turned up another channel and came alongside a long sand bank covered in bird life. I set the decoys then put up the blind and sat and watched.

Hundreds of Oyster catchers got up and flew. We saw Royal Spoonbills, gannets, and a myriad of other species but nary a duck. Being quite a large harbour, I suspect that its going to take quite some exploring to find the ducks & geese... best get started!

We arrived back well after dark, cold and a bit wet and went across to his brother Mike's place for a meal of venison and spuds - good stuff after a long day's hunting.

This has been a primo season.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Catch Magazine, Issue 23

Issue 23 of Catch is out. I like.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Full moon lake fishing

The boys hit some of th Rotorua Lakes over the past weekend. Here are some of the fruits of their labours:

These lakes are "put & take" fisheries, stocked each year with progengy of fish caught in traps at Tarawera and Ngongotaha, so no one needs get upset about the fact that the fish pictured are dead - apart from the lower one who is "looking down" - a sure sign of an alive fish in a photo. I'm sure ended up on a barbecue or in a smoker as well.

Good solid fish, but the boys reported difficult fishing on the full moon, which is often the case.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Choked willow hole

Just back from an evening hunt followed up by a morning shoot with Tim and his boy Quinn. Asking if I could slip my leash was less dramatic than I could have hoped; I had expected a night shoot but with permission granted to stay the night at the hut and shoot the morning I wasn't saying no! I packed the boat and hit the road at 1.30, arriving at the landing at 3.00. A massive amount of water was coming from the ponds so I was quite alarmed, but nothing had happened to the weir, it was simply high flow. I got my crap together and set some dekes on one of the ponds. When I returned Tim and Quinn had arrived, so we caught up, made plans and I set off for a night shoot in a choked willow hole. I didn't get within 50 metres before my splashing set up the first wave of ducks, their wing beats thundered under the canopy. By the time I arrived at the hole, more than 100 ducks had got up (my estimate). As I entered the clearing a fat Mallard drake got up and received a load of Hevi Metal for his troubles. I quickly set up my flapper decoy and hid in the willows, almost immediately a hen Mallard set her wings high overhead and dived in. I caught her with my second shot. Ducks flew everywhere, I could hear Tim calling and calling. A hen spoonie charged overhead catching me on the back foot, a few calls and she turned and came back. Again the second shot killed her cleanly and she plummeted down hitting a willow on her way. Later a Mallard drake set his wings to come in but saw me move and pulled out; I could have fired but he would have fallen in a bad place for me to find him. A grey duck was the next visitor and fell at my first shot. It was now getting dark and the flight all but ceased. In the dark another drake dropped in but earned his freedom as i couldn't make him out below the tree line. A fast moving duck was my next visitor but kept going after my shots. I put on my headlamp and switched on - and 2 possums charged towards the light! A charge of #4 cleaned one up and the other escaped. Quite an eventful hunt and typical of June hunting - the spoonies arrive and the other ducks move away from open water to spots with cover and food.

We set a couple of Fenn traps in boxes around the hut and baited them with eggs to try and knock off the stoats that are infesting the area, and then hit the hay after a dinner of hot dogs. All too soon the alarm went and after a coffee and food we hit the ponds. Fog had rolled in which spells death for the hunting, so after a couple of hours I decided to revisit the choked willow hole. Again ducks departed despite my trying to remain as quiet as possible, but this time I managed a spoonie drake as he made an exit. I wandered around under flooded willows for half an hour, knocking down a Mallard and missing an opportunity at a grey as he jinked through the trees.

Quinn with a spoonie

As an experience, this type of hunting is hard to beat. You work hard but it is so rewarding.

We pulled the dekes relatively early and I got back home by lunch time - mission accomplished. I love late season willow bashing.

The prettiest of our ducks - the Shoveler ("spoonie") drake
Scale - Mallard Vs. Shoveler

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Cutting, grinding, drilling...

Based on dad's feedback, I decided to lower the boat blind by 20cm. The leg assembly on the Avery Quickset is the only piece that comes pre-assembled, so chopping it involved drilling out some rivets, measuring, cutting, drilling new holes and finally re-assembling. Took me the best part of a couple of hours... to be fair I also re-rigged the sea decoys with some weight to stop them darting through waves (really noticeable the other day).

Tomorrow, I hunt. The weather looks promising for an evening shoot and I know just the place....

Friday, June 1, 2012

A political win for hunters

Some encouraging signs from our NSW hunting counterparts, they've managed to lobby with enough power (excuse the pun, which will become apparent) to claim their right to hunt in national parks. A national park is by definition the land of the people, so for any user group to have been excluded in the first instance seems unusual... however the access is not completely unfettered (World Heritage sites and lands close to metropolitan areas will still be excluded to hunters).

The Shooters & Fishers Party have wielded their political clout and to me it seems that the landing point of all of this is pragmatic and sensible; hunters now will play a greater hand in the control of pest species which to all intents and purposes ought to reduce the cost to the tax payer of controlling pests on publicly owned land, as well as having greater access to their outdoor pursuits.

Here is the release from the Winchester Club in Au.

All very positive stuff.